An Augustana Story
MAGDA GLATTER: THE MAVERICK FACTOR...CONTINUED
AN AUGUSTANA STORY
|Photo courtesy of Augustana Special Collections|
Augustana College had never seen anyone quite like her, at least not outside of films. Though she was little-almost childlike in her short stature and delicate proportions-her presence was large. She was quintessentially exotic. Her profile looked as if it had been copied from a Medieval coin. Her black hair swept from her forehead, with two artistically arranged white streaks on either side. She applied makeup with skill and flair, to serve her dramatic beauty rather than vulgarizing it. Matched red lipstick and nails. Eye shadow, as if eyes like hers needed it: deep and darkly bright, alternately langorous, sexy, and sharp as a drill.
And then there was the accent. Not the lilt and lyricism of Swedish, but the deep emphatic force of Hungarian. And then the name: Magda Fejer Glatter. Who'd ever heard of a Magda besides the Gabor sisters (who lived not too far from her in her native Hungary and whom she considered cheap)? Add to all that, an international reputation as a visual artist.
Magda Glatter, I believe, was herself a work of art, a brilliantly designed persona. She crafted herself. And, like her makeup, the crafting emphasized rather than falsifying who and what she was. If you knew Magda, you knew that back home in Budapest, she always got white lilacs on her birthday-a birthday that fell on January 20, in the frozen dark of a Budapest winter. White lilacs in winter are expensive; she was that cherished. Among the art treasures that filled her home on 34th Street was a Biedermeier chest that had originally belonged to a Hungarian nobleman. She studied art in Budapest, Vienna, Paris, Chicago. She exhibited works in various media-water color, oil, crayon, wash and pencil-throughout the country.
Her life swept around her in dramatic stories, like the vivid scarves she wore. When she came to America to enroll in the Art Institute of Chicago, she practically stepped off the boat into the arms of her erstwhile fiancé, Dr. Zoltan Glatter, who whisked her away to be married before she had time to wash her face, change her clothes, or learn the English language in which the ceremony was conducted. That greatly-beloved husband was later killed in a tragic car accident which also injured her seriously.
She'd always say that her age was "classified information." I don't think it was so much vanity as truth: the work of art she'd made of herself defied time. Who cared, really, to confine her to the number of a birthdate (it was 1903, as a matter of fact)?
Magda Glatter in 1961 in Larson Hall
She taught art and art history at Augustana from 1950 until 1972. In and out of the classroom she was bold and blunt, with strictly non-negotiable opinions. She entertained elegantly. If her authentic Hungarian food was a bit skimpy on quantity-you were always well advised to eat something before you came to her dinners-it was always superb in quality. If she accepted invitations to three New Year's Eve parties and expected those who drove-she didn't-to convey her from one bash to the other, the drivers never felt seriously exploited. They were, after all, transporting a classic. And everyone had a good time. "I loved every second of the twenty years I spent at Augustana," Magda said when she retired.
All her life she maintained the work of art she was. When the discrepancy between the white streaks and the black hair became a little strained, when the tiny, skillful hands curled to claws, she was still Magda Glatter-formidable, fierce, in charge.
Yet there was another side to her-a mysterious gypsy gift of sight. In her mid-seventies she entered a local hospital for a complaint that seemed to be minor. Her son Thomas Glatter, a Chicago cardiologist, reassured her that it was nothing serious. But "I will die," she asserted. And she did. A day or so after her death I received a handmade birthday card from her, signed: "Love from the late Mrs. Glatter."
Photo taken in 1970s with Art Dept. faculty
The gypsy spirit drove her to restlessness, as well. She sought a place where her creative energy could come home. And she found it, at least temporarily, in an unlikely venue: Augustana's Campus Church, an ELCA congregation managed by students and shepherded by Reverend Richard Swanson. Eclectic himself, "Swanie" showed her ways of reconciling her early Jewish upbringing with the Christian vision he represented. When she was admitted to the hospital for that last time, and a staff member asked for her church connection, the tiny, aristocratic woman lifted her head proudly and announced in ringing tones: "CAHM-POOS!"
An artist to the end.
Department of English
|Taken in 1965. Photo courtesy of Augustana Special Collections|